By GERSHON BASKIN
First came the Caesarea conferences on Israel’s economic policies and plans run by the Israel Democracy Institute where ministers and Bank of Israel officials came to deliver high-profile speeches on the future of our economic welfare. Then came the Herzliya conferences to which prime ministers, foreign ministers, chiefs of staff and others leaders from the security military establishment presented their views and policy plans.
Now comes the U.S. Congress and offers a podium to Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to make a major policy address. Where’s the Knesset? Congress already gives Israel more than $3 billion a year, so they are certainly within their right to have the prime minister put on a show for them? And why shouldn’t the he agree to go along?
But a better question is why don’t our political leaders use the podium belonging to the Israeli people to address the public? Of course the U.S. Congress is much friendlier to the prime minister than the Knesset. Netanyahu enjoys the support of more than 95 percent of the U.S. Congress. In the U.S. Congress no one will heckle him; he might even get a standing ovation.
Despite the “feelgood” aspect of a US congressional speech, the prime minister of Israel should be required to make major foreign policy speeches in the Knesset. But it seems clear that what Netanyahu has to say, we might have already heard from him. It’s safe to assume that whatever he says will probably be insufficient to renew negotiations with the Palestinians or to prevent the world from recognizing a Palestinian state in September. But Netanyahu knows very well that the AIPAC-supported Republican-led Congress will love his speech and they will use it against President Obama.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas once again stated this week that he would prefer to enter negotiations with Israel than take the Palestinian issue to the United Nations. Abbas expects that more than 140 nations will recognize Palestine within the June 4, 1967 borders, with Jerusalem as the capital of two states. Nonetheless, Abbas is well aware that for real peace to be established and for Palestine to really exist, he must have an agreement with Israel on all of the core issues.
Abbas’s refusal to renew negotiations is not only because of continued settlement expansion. Abbas has also indicated that there has been no Israeli response whatsoever to the Palestinian document submitted to U.S. Special Envoy for Middle East Peace George Mitchell almost two years ago. The government has not indicated the slightest bit of seriousness on reaching an agreement. Instead, Israeli policymakers insist that we need to seek a Palestinian state with provisional borders, that the Palestinian leadership is not a partner for peace, that Israel cannot and will not withdraw from the Jordan Valley and a slew of more “no’s.” Israel even refuses to grant the Palestinians control over the small access road that would make the building of the new Palestinian city Rawabi feasible, despite the pressure from the U.S. and the EU.
Israel today fully controls more than 60 percent of the West Bank and refuses to give up even one centimeter of that land to the Palestinians. Even if Netanyahu announces a willingness to transfer some small parts of Area C to the Palestinians, it makes no difference. In reality, as long as Israel controls all external borders, Palestinians have no real freedom.
From the Palestinian perspective, there is absolutely no Israel intention or even desire to reach an agreement. The Palestinians have had enough of peace processes. There is no need to sit at the negotiating table if there is no intention of reaching an agreement. So if Netanyahu is serious about negotiations, he should first state that he intends to reach a comprehensive agreement. Instead he has stated that he is willing to offer the Palestinians a state on 50 or 60 percent of the West Bank with Israel controlling the external borders. This is a non-starter. No state will agree to live in a sovereign cage.
It should be clear to Netanyahu and to the Israeli people that the Palestinians will no longer wait for our political system to come to its senses. In order to save the two-state solution, the UN will be forced to take action in September and even if Palestine is only created on paper, the days of the continued occupation of the Palestinian state will be numbered and the diplomatic tsunami will be much more dramatic.
Palestinians will significantly strengthen their hand at the UN in September if they also submit an Israeli-Palestinian peace treaty reflecting the middle ground between the Abbas and Olmert positions during the last round of serious negotiations. The Palestinians should sign it and leave a blank space for Israel’s signature. This will leave no doubt whatsoever regarding Palestine’s intention to be a “peace-loving state” as mentioned in the UN Charter.
Neither the Palestinians, nor Israel, want the U.S. or the Quartet to impose a peace plan. Imposed peace plans will not work and, even if good, the very idea that it is imposed will cause the hot-headed Middle Easterners that we are to reject it. What we need is for the U.S. and the Quartet to put parameters on the table so that negotiations can be framed and condensed in a way that will enable a full comprehensive agreement that will also be the end of conflict and the end of claims.
For those parameters to be an acceptable base, there must be language and elements that address Israel’s needs, and not only those of the Palestinians. The parameters must speak about a two-state solution where each state is the nation-state of its people, recognizing the specific character of each state while also guaranteeing the full and equal rights of the minorities in those states. The parameters must mention the non-militarized nature of the Palestinian state and the ways and means to guarantee that it will remain so. The parameters must be more specific about what the international community is willing to do to guarantee that Israel’s threat perceptions regarding the Palestinian state will not become a security threat reality.
A set of parameters which are perceived as more balanced by Washington will have a greater chance of being accepted by a large part of Israeli society, even if the current government does not accept it. Those parameters would provide the basis for creating a Palestinian state that Israel could live with.
Gershon Baskin is co-CEO of the Israel/Palestine Center for Research and Information (www.ipcri.org) and is founding the Center for Israeli Progress.